This expedition will cover a variety of terrain from deep U-shaped valleys to high mountain passes reaching 5000m. Much of the expedition will be above 4000m which adds to the challenge of the uneven, steep terrain and numerous river crossings.
The climate in the Wakhan is relatively stable, it receives very little precipitation each year, however you can experience multiple days of snow and rain. It does have a reputation for having strong winds – even Marco Polo commented on them! These blow in the afternoon and are very dry. Above 4000m it is chilly as soon as the wind picks up or the sun goes away. Remember this is a mountainous area and you will be travelling at altitude. The weather can be unpredictable and can change rapidly so you should be prepared accordingly.
Dushanbe airport is located on the outskirts of the city with easy access via hotel shuttles and taxis. The team will use 4WD vehicles to reach the trailhead. Whilst driving in Tajikistan, the roads are relatively good although they are often unsurfaced which can lead to delays following landslides or heavy rain. In contrast, the roads in Afghanistan are very bad so you should expect progress to be slow and to involve river crossings or vehicle breakdowns.
The majority of the expedition will be on foot. You will carry your day sack with personal effects required during the daytime; your main rucksack will be stowed on the pack animals. If anyone is feeling unwell or suffering with the altitude or if we need to catch up on time on the route, the animals will assist us with this as well as providing support for river crossings. We don’t ask that you are an experienced rider, just that you are comfortable around animals and are willing to try if required.
While driving, the team will stay in a selection of guesthouses. These vary in the amenities they offer but you should expect to sleep on the floor of group rooms in your sleeping bag. Once the trek starts, the team will be camping in tents provided by Secret Compass. On occasions, if the opportunity arises, you will stay in small shelters or yurts provided by locals. Be aware toilet facilities are non-existent and require a long walk and washing facilities will be the local stream.
In towns, the team will eat well in local restaurants, in Tajikistan it is often kebab or rice-based and vegetarians struggle for variety. Once on the trek, all our food will be sourced in country. In Afghanistan most food is rice based with nan and vegetables, often beans, with little meat.
On the trek we will have a cook attached who will make up meals from ingredients sourced in Ishkashim. The food on the trek is based on rice, potatoes or pasta and the cook usually manages to produce tasty options from limited resources.
In the Wakhan we will also source food from the locals, which are mainly dairy based products such as yogurt. The local staple is the following: breakfast is milky tea and unleven bread, lunch is milky tea and bread and dinner is milky tea, bread, rice and often one of: double cream, creamy rice or cheese and stew for special occasions. It is advised that you bring your own favourite trail snacks for a morale boost on the trekking portion.
If you have any dietary requirements, please disclose these to Secret Compass on your Booking Form.
Cultural: Ethnic Groups
- Tajikistan. In and around Dushanbe the people are of Tajik ethnicity. They are Muslim. However, it is relaxed, people wear western clothes and drink alcohol. The main languages are Tajik (a variety of Persian) and Russian. English is spoken but not widely.
- Tajikistan. GBAO area: the GBAO area is inhabited by the Pamiri people, a distinct ethnic group. They are Ismaili Muslims and follow the Aga Khan, who is their spiritual leader. He is a billionaire based in Paris and runs the Aga Khan Foundation and development organisations that are very active in the region and in Afghanistan. Ismailis are liberal Muslims who don’t pray five times a day nor do they fast for Ramadam. Ismaili women also enjoy a more equal relationship.
- Afghanistan. Ishkashim is made up of an eclectic mix of people. The majority are Tajik Afghans. They are much more conservative than their cousins over the border. Many women will be veiled in a burkha and all will have headscarves. They will pray five times a day and wear traditional Afghan dress. In Ishkashim do not try and converse with a women if you are a man. Dari is spoken, again a form of Persian. English is not widely spoken.
- Afghanistan’s Wakhi community: the Wakhi are related to the Pamiri people of Tajikistan. They are also Ismaili Muslims, friendly and relaxed. Wakhi women wear colourful clothes and are allowed to speak to other men. They speak Wakhi and Dari and are semi-nomadic.
- Afghanistan’s Kyrgyz community: the Kyrgyz are descended from Mongolian nomads and so look very different to the other people you will meet. They are Sunni Muslims and speak Kyrgyz but can also speak Dari. They speak no English. They are nomadic, moving between summer and winter pastures. As they are so isolated and hemmed in by international borders their range is limited. A proud people, they are completely isolated form modern life.
Men should wear long trousers and long sleeves in Ishkashim whilst women should cover legs and arms and wear a headscarf. In Tajikistan women will get away with a T-shirt and no headscarf. When trekking in the mountains it will be possible to remove the headscarf, but when in villages or meeting new people on the way it will be necessary.
We are only going to be able to achieve what we want with the help of people in the communities we travel through. The people will be very hospitable and friendly to us, strangers in their land. Please remember that they are from a completely different culture to us and look at life from a very different perspective. Do not apply western logic to their thoughts, which are affected by factors we don’t understand. They will not have the same concept of time, environmental responsibility or ‘customer service’. They will be late, may be unreliable (in our eyes) and will do things completely differently to us. The concept of a business transaction is not the same as ours and they will not apply our logic. Again, all part of the fun. Never express anger at an Afghan, it can destroy the relationship; patience and understanding are our tools.
Dos and Don’ts
- Alcohol is forbidden in Afghanistan (it’s fine in Tajikistan).
- Never express anger at an Afghan, see above.
- Do not point the soles of your feet or shoes directly at another person.
- Take shoes off when going inside (and on rugs outside) place sole down.
- Only use your right hand to eat and offer food.
- Dress appropriately.
Secret Compass staff will be carrying at least two methods of communication, usually a Satellite Phone and a DeLorme two-way communication device. These will be used for regular updates to head office and for emergencies.
Unfortunately, routine communication between team members and family/friends is not possible – please reassure them that no news is good news! If there is an emergency and someone needs to contact a team member, they can contact Secret Compass’s Operations Room on +44207 096 8428 who will endeavour to pass a message on within 24hours.
Cell Phone. Your mobile roaming will work in Dushanbe and perhaps in some parts of Ishkashim, but you are unlikely to get signal whilst in the Wakhan Corridor. There will be no opportunity to charge electronics during the trek so please come prepared with spare batteries, power packs or solar chargers.